Re: virus: Rationality in the Cave

Sun, 14 Mar 1999 21:23:12 -0800

David McFadzean wrote:

> Out of a million accounts of supernatural experiences, what percentage
> on average would you say are authentic as opposed to hallucinations,
> dreams, delusions, mistakes or other sorts of misinterpretations?

A million accounts compiled by whom? Collected from where and for what reason? A million examples from mainstream media? From CSICOP? From the Psychic-Friends network?

What do you have in mind as being indicative of a "supernatural experience" when you're compiling these one million accounts? My estimation of the percentage of "genuine" supernatural experiences in that million accounts will vary greatly depending on the answers to these questions.

> >> David:

> >> Is
> >> that somehow better? I'm assuming that being right or wrong has some
> >> real consequences in these situations. If not, it is better to suspend
> >> judgement.
> >> >>

> > KMO:

> >Cool. I can imagine this thread winding its way into a territory in
> >which the alpha mistake/beta mistake distinction is a handy navigational
> >device. Thanks for droppin' some science on us, Eric.
> I get the impression that most people view skeptics as erring on the
> side of not believing truths. However that is not the case, skeptics
> try to find the optimal balance.

Careful now. Blanket claims about what skeptics believe and how they arrive at their beliefs strike me as being akin to statements about what North Americans believe, or what Communists believe.

> Given any claim X they ask themselves
> which is more likely given the evidence: X or not-X?

And my suggestion is that bias and agenda play a large roll in determining which kinds of information are judged to be legitimate evidence, in deciding which items get selected for analysis and comparison, and in framing the output of our rational analyses. Am I saying that you are no better off employing the tools of rationality than you are consulting a psychic? Of course not.

> >> Eric:

> >> Now, depending on your outlook, you can decide which of the two errors
> >> would be worse, and tip the scales accordingly.

> > KMO:

> >Wow! You can do that? Right on. Do you have some managable algorithm for
> >calculating the expected utility of an alpha mistake and a beta mistake
> >to determine when and which way one should tip the scales?

> David:

> It isn't especially simple, but it is called Game Theory. As you mention
> later in your message, it is related to expected utility, and intuition
> does indeed help one evaluate it when the situation calls for a quick
> decision (no doubt this is one of the reasons intuition evolved as it
> did).

I'd argue that intuitive decission making in huans predates the formulation of Game Theory or the concept of utility. I say this only to point out that the intuitive decission-making that humans have been doing for so long is not likely to be the result of internalizing and applying (even approximately and haphazardly) the principles of Game Theory.

Am I assuming that the process of making intuitive judgements is the same in modern humans as it was in early or proto-humans or that the study and practiced application of probability and Game Theory play no role in real-time intuitive judgement calls? Not at all. I would just reiterate that our biases and agendas still play a big role, and some of those biases are hard-wired and pre-date language. Logic, Game Theory, and mathematics, are invaluable, but their use does not negate all of the other factors that influence our perceptions, judgements, and actions.

> However education in formal game theory allows one to do even
> better if you're interested in making good decisions, just as training
> in any endeavor.

I'm inclined to agree with you there.